NY State legalizes marijuana for recreational use

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On March 31, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana in New York State, making New York the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana use. New Yorkers aged 21 and over are now legally allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for recreational use. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act will also automatically expunge the records of people convicted of marijuana-related charges that are now legal. 

However, the first legal sales of marijuana are expected to be many months away. Before dispensaries are approved to begin selling recreational marijuana, the State will create an Office of Cannabis Management, composed of a five-member board, to regulate and oversee the industry. Sales of recreational marijuana are expected to begin in 12-18 months. Localities will also be able to opt out of retail sales. 

Vassar’s policies on student use of marijuana are not expected to change, as Vassar will remain a smoke-free campus, explained Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana. Vassar is also unlikely to make significant changes to current hiring practices, as the College does not currently drug test employees unless they are suspected of being under the influence of drugs at work. Additionally, Chief Information Officer Carlos Garcia shared that the College only conducts background checks for employees responsible for handling sensitive data or processes. “Our assumption is, if charges are expunged, they wouldn’t show on the background check,” explained Garcia. 

The bill also includes specific provisions aimed to improve issues associated with racial and socioeconomic disparities in marijuana related arrests. State officials have set a goal to offer half of business licenses to women, people of color, distressed farmers or disabled veterans. Additionally, taxes generated by cannabis sales will be directed towards communities negatively affected by policing of drugs. Sales of cannabis at dispensaries will be subject to a 13 percent tax, including a nine percent state tax and a four percent  locality tax. Once the costs of implementing recreational marijuana regulations are covered, 40 percent of taxes generated by cannabis sales will be placed in the Community Grant Reinvestment Fund. This fund will be allocated through grants to qualifying community-based organizations and local government entities in communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies. An additional 40 percent will go to the State Lottery Fund for Education, and the remaining 20 percent will be allocated to the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund, which will finance drug treatment programs as well as early intervention and prevention initiatives. 

State Senator Liz Krueger, who sponsored the bill legalizing recreational marijuana, emphasized the importance of racial justice in guiding legislation. “My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities. I believe we have achieved that in this bill,“ said Krueger. 

The Act has received praise from activists opposed to the War on Drugs and racially targeted policing. “By placing community reinvestment, social equity, and justice front and center, this law is the new gold standard for reform efforts nationwide,” said Melissa Moore, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. 

The recreational marijuana industry has the potential to significantly impact New York’s economy; one study by the Center for New York City Affairs found that in six years, the recreational marijuana industry could generate $2.6 billion in sales and create over 50,000 jobs. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has estimated that eventually, legalization could bring in an additional $350 million in state revenue. 

Griffin Wells ’22 explained that living in California has shown him the economic benefits of recreational marijuana legalization. “The weed culture on campus is already pretty relaxed, but having legal weed in New York now is good because it means more sales tax is going towards our school and infrastructure,” said Wells. 

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